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Penguins’ Cooke hit with lengthy suspension

MATT COOKE Repeat offender MATT COOKE
Repeat offender
Associated Press / March 22, 2011

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Matt Cooke got exactly the kind of harsh punishment Mario Lemieux challenged the NHL to hand out.

The only problem is Cooke plays for the Penguins, the team Lemieux owns.

The oft-penalized Cooke received the stiffest sentence yet in his 12-year career when he was suspended yesterday by the league for the remainder of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs for elbowing Ryan McDonagh of the Rangers in the head Sunday.

Pittsburgh has nine games to play after last night’s match with the Red Wings. Adding in at least four postseason games, the left wing will be forced to sit out a minimum of 14 games. He will also lose $219,512.20 in salary.

Last month, Lemieux lashed out at the NHL for what he perceived to be insufficient discipline following a brawl-filled game between the Islanders and his Penguins.

Penguins general manager Ray Shero supported the penalty the NHL gave Cooke, saying the suspension was “warranted because that’s exactly the kind of hit we’re trying to get out of the game.

“Head shots have no place in hockey. We’ve told Matt in no uncertain terms that this kind of action on the ice is unacceptable and cannot happen. Head shots must be dealt with severely.’’

The ruling followed a meeting between Cooke and NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell.

“Mr. Cooke, a repeat offender, directly and unnecessarily targeted the head of an opponent who was in an unsuspecting and vulnerable position,’’ Campbell said. “This isn’t the first time this season that we have had to address dangerous behavior on the ice by Mr. Cooke, and his conduct requires an appropriately harsh response.’’

It is Cooke’s fifth suspension and the fourth since he signed with the Penguins in 2008. He was banned four games last month for hitting Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin from behind.

Cooke’s unpenalized hit last season on Marc Savard started an uproar that led to the creation of a rule that bans blindside hits to the head. The rising rate of concussions in the NHL has the league on high alert and was the biggest topic of conversation at last week’s general managers meetings.

Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby hasn’t played since Jan. 5 because of a lingering concussion caused by hits to the head in successive games from Washington’s David Steckel on Jan. 1 in the Winter Classic and Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman four days later.

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